Passive-Aggressive: Explanation & Cure.

Via on Jan 21, 2014

passive agressive someecard

The first time I encountered the phrase passive-aggressive was during a break-up.

Feeling hurt, I was defensive and had no idea what the words meant, and all I knew is that it was an attack and a label. Fast forward a decade filled with a great deal of introspection and inquiry into psychology, self-discovery and personality, and I would have had to agree with her. I used to be passive-aggressive, still can be, and have learned what it is, how to identify it, and the cure.

Passive-aggressive is not having the courage to speak openly and directly.

As a highly sensitive person, I am aware of the impact of my words, actions and presence on others. Most especially the people closest to me. The last thing I want to do is hurt them, bring them discomfort or mess anything up. More so, I never wanted to be seen as anything other than human, divine, and loving. I do my best, and I believe the majority of humans also try their best.

I didn’t always have passive-aggressive traits. They grew within me because of life-events; being betrayed, being ridiculed, being treated as less than human and hurt at the deepest levels. On an instinctual level I learned that I had to hide myself. To be open-hearted, expressive and intimate would only allow myself to be hurt, demeaned and abandoned.

It took years for me to recognize my fears, the causes for them, and how to live with and move past them.

Most passive-aggressive people tend to have deep wounds, either from childhood or traumatic experiences in life.

The tendency to be fearful is a natural result of trauma. Nobody wants to be hurt the first time, let alone again.

And when facing environments, scenarios, emotions or people that trigger past events, an instinctive defensive response arises. The instinctive response happens without thought, and precedes emotion. It is often invisible, cannot be recognized, and rests hidden deep within the subconscious. The emotions that arise are often not acknowledged, and don’t want to be lived. Fear takes precedence and the self becomes hidden from not only the other person, but more importantly to one’s own self. Often times the fear isn’t even recognized as fear.

This happens quickly, and is not a thought out, deliberate or intentional response.

Passive-aggressive tendencies arise from fear.

The fear arises for a few reasons. It arises from not wanting to hurt the other person, or saying something that would bring negative results in one’s own life.

Most commonly the fear arises because of not wanting to trigger a response in the other person that would cause them to hurt us.

It is an instinctual, animal level fear that slips beneath conscious awareness.

This is what makes passive-aggressiveness maladaptive. Maladaptive is a behavior that has the opposite result of what is intended. Rather than keeping the peace, passive-aggressive tendencies drive the other person away because there is no foundation for truth. And without a solid base for communication, in the absence of security and trust, there is no chance for relationship.

Fear manifests the unwanted desire through sheer emotional power.

Then the harm that one is trying to avoid becomes real. And the responses one was hoping to avoid in the other arise.

Every person is passive-aggressive to some degree.

I’ve yet to meet a person who does not have this defensive trait. To understand and work with passive-aggressiveness in another person requires a depth of personal truth and security within. It means facing fears, and learning to express and live one’s own authentic self. When knowing how to heal oneself, the sensitivity for recognizing and healing others through non-doing and simple presence becomes available.

The first step to healing passive-aggressiveness is awareness within.

The cure is to be oneself, and to speak internal truth with integrity, regardless.

A person who is passive-aggressive is simply being defensive. To expect somebody to be other than as they are is harmful, and only creates more resistance.

It is frightening to present oneself. In doing so, one becomes vulnerable to unwanted reactions, criticisms, judgments and all manners of imagined and real harms.

Speaking personal truth and owning one’s words, spirits and their consequences requires a great deal of courage. Finding the strength to speak openly gives emotional liberty that can be grounding, and very warming.

The cure to heal the other is to first heal oneself and to live the example.

Expressing with sensitivity the personal, individual spirit shows a person who lives in fear how to express and be open without fear. But to take action to try and change the other person is to see them as broken, and needing ‘fixed.’ Nobody wants to feel or be treated as broken. Instead, see the person through eyes of love and see the parts of them that are already whole and courageous.

Verbally appreciate with sincere gratitude the authentic spirit when it presents itself.

To communicate with a passive-aggressive individual can be frustrating.

It is easy to feel off-balanced with somebody who isn’t speaking authentically. The ability to sense that a person is incomplete with their words and not fully sharing their emotions, or speaking the entire truth, is a natural talent. Especially when knowing somebody intimately.

It can be easy to feel that the other is not being forthcoming. This does not mean that the other is being a liar, their defensiveness reveals a personal boundary that must be respected. In respecting the boundary, and being secure with oneself, the chance for healing presents itself.

To judge the person, to throw labels at them and to abandon them only reveals one’s own judgmental nature, critical mind and unloving traits.

In other words, when you recognize that a person is being passive-aggressive or defensive, to point that out or to label them as passive-aggressive will do no good, it will only cause them to retreat further and become more defensive.

Being around a person who is passive-aggressive will raise every trait of insecurity in the people around them. Self-knowledge and adherence to personal truth is that much more essential around a passive-aggressive individual, because the passive-aggressive person will undermine one’s very perspective and relationship to reality. This is why it is essential to first own and work through one’s own passive-aggressive tendencies. Without a solid personal base, the insecure person who is around passive-aggressiveness will disintegrate emotionally.

Living with passive-aggressiveness takes patience.

The passive-aggressive individual is not a bad person, they are simply a person who has been deeply hurt.

And when such a person is a family member, friend, or intimate partner, the only way to stay present is with expansive love. Pushing such a person to be honest or direct does not work because they cannot see past their own fear and hurt. Space and time are essential for healing. Even more so, trusting that person and seeing the best in them can alleviate the fear and reassure them that they are trusted, held with love, and embraced with security.

Personal responsibility and living one’s own truth sets an example for others to live and embrace their own nature.

Living and treating oneself with love, sensitivity and awareness gives strength, spaciousness and resources for allowing others to be as they are.

Love remains the cure. First from within, then to without.

 

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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: someecards

About Keith Artisan

Keith Artisan is merely a human being, not too different yet certainly not the same as anyone else. He found himself on this planet many years ago and enjoys exploring the mystery of life because it makes him laugh a lot. Keith loves earning a living with his talents as a musician, artist, writer, and yoga instructor. He is most frequently found at music jams and the rest of the time exploring nature, climbing boulders, playing video games, reading, and hanging out with family and friends. He is online at Facebook and his website, Living Artisan .

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14 Responses to “Passive-Aggressive: Explanation & Cure.”

  1. Lailee says:

    Wow! Awesome ideas and fantastic advice on a very difficult subject to articulate so clearly.

  2. robb says:

    my bf calls me passive aggressive all the time when I say things that he calls digs, I do this because when I just come straight out and say what I am feeling he gets pissed so I just beat around the bush so he gets the hint I am mad without me just coming out and saying hey you are being a ass its a lose lose situation

    • Chant says:

      I know what you mean, I'm the same way with my boyfriend and I'm really trying to change my ways. I think it's best to bring things up when you're calm because if you do it while you're upset you're going to sound aggressive and he's going to get defensive. Good luck!

  3. Grace K says:

    This is an insightful, informative, compassionate article about an issue than can be difficult and painful. I appreciate the deep understanding and compassion that is shown in discussing this topic. Thank you.

  4. Viv says:

    I have also experienced a more sinister side to passive-aggressiveness. It is also exercised by people who do nasty things like using others to their own benefit without any care for the other's feelings or any nasty consequences for the other , and then want to avoid building up "emotional debt" by failing to own up to their act. In other words, they want to and and often do eat their cake and keep it – at someone else's expense.

  5. Ross O. says:

    Keith, I felt uncomfortable while reading this. That is usually a good sign that I am learning something. Pain is surfacing. Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights with so much compassion.

  6. Henry Clarence says:

    Very insightful, and clearly stated. Reading it was a learning experience.

  7. Heather says:

    Completely disagree. I have known some passive aggressives who do it very deliberately to mislead, confuse and misappropriate blame to deflect from their own less-than-altruistic motives. It can be used maliciously, and is not always a product of hurt, and most certainly, not all passive aggressives don't want to hurt. For some, it's the most powerful weapon in their armoury. My father was a prime example of this,, so I've been trained by the best! That's why I'm almost painfully transparent in my relationships. I know how much hurt and confusion, and questioning of yourself dealing with a passive aggressive can produce. It's basically cowardice.

  8. Tanya says:

    I disagree VERY strongly with most of the content of this article. It took me years to discover that my spouse was passive aggressive. During that time I loved him unconditionally, and his abuse only worsened. The more I gave, the more he would take away. Love is not always the answer. Most people who exhibit malicious passive-aggressive behavior also tend to have a selfish and entitled personality. It was only after I confronted him that the behavior began to change.

    You stated "In other words, when you recognize that a person is being passive-aggressive or defensive, to point that out or to label them as passive-aggressive will do no good, it will only cause them to retreat further and become more defensive.".

    Pointing it out to him was the only thing that saved our relationship. He is now seeking counseling to help determine the cause of his behavior and solutions for the future. Passive aggression is a form of mental abuse and can be damaging to the person of which it is aimed. I think that your article offers some VERY bad advice that could lead to people enduring mentally abusive relationships while blaming themselves for not "loving" enough or being "patient" enough.

  9. Guest says:

    As a mental health provider, I will completely disagree with this summation. Your description & suggestions are exactly what one should not do and is exactly opposite of what passive-aggressive behavior is. Passive-aggressive is not about feeling hurt. To believe that is simply feeding into the passive-aggressive frenzy. Being hurt and defensive are very different from passive-aggressive behaviors. Being hurt and defensive are generally short term emotions that are usually resolved with simply communication and understanding between people.

    Passive-aggressive behavior is based on an unwillingness to deal with anger and projecting that anger onto another person with the intent of pissing that person off or hurting that person. It is expressions of hostility toward a person in order to sabotage a situation regardless of whether the outcome will be hurtful to or counter-productive for the passive-aggressive behavior. It is based on a 'win at all costs' attitude in that the passive-aggressive person has no regard as to who gets hurt along the way, or how much it will ultimately cost him/her in the end.

    Passive aggressive behavior is a classified mental illness outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) revision IV which describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations".

    The causes are widespread based on a pattern of maladaptive coping and an inability to not want to deal with anger. While some degree of the passive-aggressive behaviors may be learned as a result of childhood repression or abuse, that would not be typical. The root of passive-aggressive behaviors is planted in one's intense need for control, misdirected competition, guilt over behaviors the passive-aggressive person is not proud of and an inability to be individually responsible for the consequences of one's own actions that may not have resulted in an outcome the passive-aggressive person expected. Very often the passive-aggressive person cannot admit he/she caused his/her own misery by overly estimating his/her own value. They very often will stand up to an authority figure such as a police officer or judge believing they are going to control the situation and have his/her demands met by the authority figure. The inability to analyze situations accurately with the possible consequences & rewards is typical. Blaming others, justifying one's actions as if one is a martyr and protecting other is common. An inability to cope with uncomfortable emotions when not getting what the passive-aggressive person wants is often displayed as anger. Attacking people at the very core of who they are is common. The passive-aggressive person cannot see another's situation, lacks empathy, uses anger to gain power, believing that as long as the passive-aggressive person wins and gets what he wants he is confident. The passive-aggressive person will describe a situation as if he/she is the victim; and can have an explosive temper when all things are falling apart. Important to make note is that the passive-aggressive person very often presents as the nicest person around, calm and well in control of him/herself. He/she can be very nice, soft spoken and endearing when he/she needs to be. He/She will even build a personal resume to paint a picture of him/herself as being a model citizen who should be revered & honored, such as volunteering for a take-notice organization such as delivering food to disabled veterans. The passive-aggressive person has such poor ego strength that it is virtually impossible to have any degree of healthy relationship with him/her.

    The silent treatment is an easy example of being passive-aggressive; as is agreeing with a plan and then changing it at a whim when he/she is left alone. This behavior is seen often in divorce situations. The passive-aggressive parent who has the kids for a visit can & will return the kids whenever he/she feels like it if he/she believes the other party or the courts will do little to prevent it. He/she follows the ‘possession is 9/10th of the law’ philosophy. If the passive-aggressive parent feels he is getting even an hour less than the other parent, he will decide himself without any communication to not return the kids on the previously agreed upon time. Dealing with the passive-aggressive ex-spouse is impossible. Simply try to be even keeled and direct. Have alternative plans & don’t make plan until the kids are actually brought home.

    In other situations, dealing with passive-aggressive people can be challenging, but workable if you have patience. Keep firm boundaries. Empathize without enabling or feeding into the passive-aggressive frenzy. Be direct about what you expect, especially if you have a written agreement. Put things in writing whenever possible. Do not put all your eggs in one basket if depending on the passive-aggressive person to do something with whom you really depend on follow through. Have a back-up plan or spread the duties around to different people so that if the passive-aggressive person does not show up & does not call you, you aren’t left holding an empty bag.

    • Guest says:

      Thank you for this… I disagreed with most of this article as well, but am certainly not professionally educated on this subject. I have experience only. I do understand those people that simply try to 'deflect' , if you will, out of fear of being hurt, however, passive aggressive behavior as I have experienced is hateful, destructive and full of mal intent.

  10. Pam says:

    So happy to find this in my fb feed tonight. I was truly in need of this perspective. THANK YOU!!!

  11. Sad says:

    I felt in a hurry about a daily painful dose of passive-aggressive behavior of a person I devoted my life. I found this and I end infinitely more sad and confronting the painful reality that the passive-aggressive attitude remains taken lightly, and it does not matter that the person does not want help, I'm liable to do something so that everything goes well. While they are human and suffer the disorder, I have to find a way to ignore my emotions and make passive-aggressive does not feel uncomfortable.

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